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"Sound it out" one of English language's biggest practical jokes


Fifteen words even you might be mispronouncing.

English is hard to spell. Nevertheless, most of us get by with a combination of some basic phonetics, habits from school, and occasional trips to the dictionary (and learning from a few embarrassing mistakes along the way). English has the most difficult spelling of any Western language (and, after all, we have spelling bees, which are nearly unique to the United States). This is partly due to the mongrel nature of the language, which evolved from a combination of Anglo-Saxon (also known as Old English), Latin, Old Norse, and the Anglo-French of the dominant class following the Norman Conquest in 1066.

This motley jumble of languages, plus time (we won’t even get into the great vowel shift), has made English spelling confusing and frequently counterintuitive. It also makes it hard to pronounce many words confidently and correctly, due to the inconsistent relationship spelling has with pronunciation. Consider the various ways we create the \f sound in cough, photo, and giraffe, or the \sh sound in special, issue, vicious, and portion, or the \k sound in tack, quite, and shellac, and how we pronounce the "o" in do, core, lock, and bone, or the "ea" in lead, ocean, idea, and early. And, of course, there’s cough, rough, though, bough, and through.

Let’s look at some words that sound quite different from what one might expect from the way that they are spelled. A few of these are fairly common words, but most are more frequently encountered by reading than from spoken English. Even avid readers with big vocabularies can be surprised by how some words sound. One thing is for sure: if you pronounce these tricky words correctly, it shows that you also know what they mean.

Click Here for the article and list of words

Which words were pronounced differently than you expected?

Of the 15 listed, mine were:

Boatswain & Coxswain

November 30, 2017



Conch, Waistcoat, and Primer were mine.

English is insane.


Primer is one of my words. However, Wiktionary states that my original pronunciation (which has "i" in "prime) is correct, so I'm kinda confused.


Indeed they are, and unfortunately they make a lot of money out of talking rubbish


Are you referring to the Marriam-Webster dictionary, or Wiktionary?


Welcome back, Luscinda. :)


Primer = paint. Primer (pronounced primmer) = small book. I always thought it was pronounced the first way, because one is priming a pump, like priming a brain. Getting it ready for the bigger stuff. Language changes over time, guided by language users. :)


Who says? Nonsense article trying to sell rubbish.


Well, you know your linguistics!! Historically, there was a time when spelling was not standardized! What fun.. You write well.


Indeed. I'm more of a descriptivist vs a prescriptivist myself. Eventually, the reference books such as dictionaries will change along with how people are using the language. Language usage is diverse and exposing ourselves to pronunciations that don't meet our expectations can be a joy to read, as the article was for me. (I didn't write it, btw. The author is in the link. ^_^)

As a hearing person who spends more time encountering words in books rather than through verbal discussions, this amused me. It brought back those instances in which I would end up hearing one of those words in the wild and was surprised it was said differently than expected.

This way, when people say the words I listed above differently than I would expect, I'll understand more quickly what they intend. ^_^


English place names that end in -cester drive me crazy! Leicester, Worcester and Gloucester are not actually that difficult to pronounce in terms of sound combinations. It is just if you have read out loud, you are already half way through the word once you realise that you should ignore most of the letters in the word. I was once in a study group reading and analysing King Lear. I eagerly volunteered to get the part of Earl of Gloucester just so that I would not have to say his name. Sadly, someone else got that part and I ended up making myself look like an idiot (or sound like an idiot to be exact).

Also, penguins! :)


It's OK, we don't laugh at speakers of other languages for not knowing whether any particular cester is a chester, a sester or a stir.

Have you ever been to Milngavie?


What? Epitome is not epi-TOHM? Damn. I wonder why no one ever corrected me and allowed me to continue to make a fool out of myself :(


It's probably a bad habit of mine, but sometimes I don't correct foreign friends when they make a couple of mistakes if their english is otherwise great, for two reasons:

  1. I don't want to offend them, and I know what they meant anyway
  2. I think it's kind of sweet? Like I have a french friend who says "precise" instead of "specify" ALL the time and I never correct her and hope no one else does because I think it's really endearing.

I know it's probably wrong but I can't help myself!


I've offered input at times. Though, not always. For me, my favorites are fanfiction authors who have English as a semi-fluent, non-native language. I love reading their works. The taste and texture of their stories are different due to slight variance of word usage. I recall reading works by April Eagle more than a decade ago and really worrying that April would take on a beta reader that would "fix" all of that. For instance, April would say "hairs" instead of "hair". So many times, their writing would draw my attention to my own usage of the English language.

  • 1610

Usagiboy7, I get what you are saying. But there are instances when the plural of "hair" is used. They are more numerous than the hairs of my head or He does have a few gray hairs, z.B. Just clarifying this point for non-native English learners.


Indeed. It wasn't a situation of plural hairs though. (at least, not that I've experienced. I understand there are many regional variations for English. So, I accept the possibility of being wrong. ^_^)

  • 1610

Even Obama mispronounced the word corpsman, he vocalized the "ps" sounds which are entirely silent. And he was the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Services. It was embarrasing.


A Greek playwright entered a tailor shop. The tailor asked him, “Euripides?”
The tragedian responded, “Yes, Eumenides?”

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